• intestate succession in california

Intestate Succession in California

Dying without a will in California can result a person’s estate being distributed contrary to their wishes. In the worst case scenario, the estate could end up with the State of California. If your loved one recently passed away without a will, the estate will be settled under the laws of intestate succession in California. Most likely, you will need help probating the estate. Contact A People’s Choice for professional, low cost legal assistance. We can help you administer the estate of a decedent who died without a will without having to hire an expensive attorney. Read on to learn more about the laws of intestate succession in California.

What is Intestate Succession in California?

Intestate succession in California occurs when a person dies without a will. Under California intestate succession laws, the decedent’s heirs entitled to receive a portion of the estate depend on whether they are next of kin. For example, as next of kin, the decedent’s surviving spouse and children will inherit his/her separate property.

The following types of property do not pass through intestate succession:

1. The decedent’s property held in a living trust

2. Life insurance proceeds with named beneficiary

3. Retirement account funds including IRA and 401(k) with named beneficiary

4. Payable-on-death bank accounts

5. Property the decedent owned in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship

Heirs At Law Under California Intestate Succession Laws

An heir at law is a person who is legally entitled to receive property of another upon that person’s death. Who is considered a decedent’s “heir at law” is determined by California’s intestacy laws. Heirs will inherit the decedent’s property based on rules of descent and distribution. If the decedent is not married or in a registered domestic partnership at death, the following heirs will have first preference, in this order:

1. Children – The decedent’s estate will be divided equally among his/her children.

2. Parents – The decedent’s estate will be divided equally among his/her parents if he/she did not have any children or a surviving spouse.

3. Siblings – If the decedent is not survived by any children, spouse, or his/her parents, his/her siblings will receive an equal part of the estate.

4. Grandparents – If the decedent is not survived by any children, spouse, or siblings, his/her estate will pass to his/her grandparents.

If the decedent is married, his/her share of community property will pass to his/her surviving spouse. Under California’s intestate succession laws, the decedent’s separate property will also pass to his/her spouse if he/she does not have any surviving children. If the decedent has children, the surviving spouse will receive a portion of the decedent’s separate property which is divided equally among the decedent’s children. If the decedent is legally separated at the time of his/her death, his/her surviving spouse will not be entitled to his/her property.

If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews, cousins, etc, the property will escheat to the State of California. This rarely occurs.

In addition, to inherit any property under California’s intestate succession laws, a person must outlive the decedent by 120 hours. Half-siblings all inherit their proportional share despite whether the decedent may have a different father or mother.

If your loved one passed away without a will, the laws of intestate succession in California will direct how the estate is distributed among the heirs of the decedent. Probating an estate without a will does not have to be expensive and can easily be accomplished without hiring an expensive lawyer. Contact A People’s Choice to learn more about how we can probate your loved one’s estate.

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By |2018-01-18T15:47:12-07:00December 7th, 2015|Estate Planning|28 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Joe April 12, 2019 at 2:04 am

    I have a couple of sisters who falsified some real estate documents, made my Mom sign paperwork without her being read back exactly what she was signing, Mom doesn’t know how to read. They made her sign her property away from her as a gift from Mom even though Mom didn’t know this at the time. Mom is still alive and wants to know if she can do anything regarding the paperwork she signed? This happened in 2013 Mom knows she was lied to when she signed and deeply regrettable, She’s 84yrs old and asking if she can do anything about this matter because she knows that she was robbed by them. What can she do? Thanks

    • Sandy McCarthy April 14, 2019 at 9:53 am

      I think Mom should immediately get in touch with an attorney regarding this matter.

  2. Mary101 March 31, 2019 at 9:50 am

    If someone passed with no will, no spouse, no children, no surviving parents or siblings – do the nieces and nephews inherit or does it go back to the grandparents issue? There are no surviving grandparents or aunt and uncles either.

    • Sandy McCarthy April 10, 2019 at 6:05 pm

      Check out Probate Code – PROBATE CODE, DIVISION 6. WILLS AND INTESTATE SUCCESSION [6100 – 6806]

  3. Shansgs430 March 12, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    How will the estate be divided with next of kin without a Will in California?

    • Sandy McCarthy March 17, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Typically if a decedent leaves no surviving relatives, or if she is survived by relatives so distant that state law prevents them from inheriting, her estate is conveyed to the state treasury by a process called escheat. Talk to an attorney for legal advice regarding this issue in your particular situation.

  4. Brittany Tolson March 5, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    We have owned 50% of our property since our dad passed In 1997. His brother passed in 1976 with no will (he does have a wife and 2 children). The property was put under Tenants in common in the 60s. They dont want to deal with the property we have been paying the taxes since we inherited it. Can we sale the property or does it have to go through probate?

    • Sandy McCarthy March 8, 2019 at 6:21 am

      Based on how title was held, the decedent’s estate would probably have to go through some sort of probate before their interest can be transferred. There are different types of probates in California. Call us at 800-747-2780.

  5. Kendra Fairbee February 21, 2019 at 10:59 am

    My mother has a life insurance policy for me(her daughter). She was the owner and I was the insured. My mother has passed away. Now I want to take ownership of the life insurance policy she had for me ( Change in Ownership) . I submitted the Death Certificate to the Life Insurance Company,, but now they are saying I need additional documentation. My mother didn’t have a Will, Eastate, ect. I have been paying the premiums on the policy for a couple of months now. Please assist

    • Sandy McCarthy February 24, 2019 at 8:05 pm

      What does the life insurance company day you need?

  6. Joy January 3, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    My cousin just passed away with no will. He was never married, no kids or siblings or domestic partnership. He kept my name and my younger cousins contact info in his wallet for emergencys. I was called by LA County Sherrifs when they found him on a welfare check as he lived alone. I’m not sure how this is going work but I am the POC with the coroner’s office. I don’t believe there is any relatives except my cousins as next of kin. There will be property involved and most likely probate. what do I do next?

    • Sandy McCarthy January 5, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      You can contact our office if you need to file probate. 800-747-2780.

  7. Jihad December 6, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    My aunt died and there was no will for the property. She had no kids and both her parents are deceased. She had two siblings. One deceased, one alive. Does the property only go to the surviving sibling? Or to the surviving sibling and the children on the deceased sibling?

    • Sandy McCarthy December 7, 2018 at 10:19 pm

      When a Intestate succession heir has died, their interest usually goes to their children.

  8. Gemma Manford November 13, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    My Exes Mom Died and the estate is in probate, Can he disclaim his inheritance and avoid paying back child support?

    He Owes back Child support for over 14 yrs, has never made a payment, and I have a court order and audit from child support services proving that he owes.
    I also have proof that he has in fact benefited from the estate after he signed the disclaimer
    There Was NO WILL left by his mother, The only heirs were him and his sister…..My Daughter was never mentioned.
    There is over 170k in liquid assets in the estate. And the estate is worth 750K

    • Sandy McCarthy November 13, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      I would seek out legal advice from an attorney as soon as possible on this issue.

  9. Reyna Davis October 9, 2018 at 5:16 am

    can the next of kin designate someone ie nephew niece to deal with the probate process or does it have to be the immediate Kin. My husbands uncle passed away and the children don’t want to deal with the probate process of his real and personal property.

    • Sandy McCarthy October 9, 2018 at 6:57 am

      Hi Reyna – We can certainly prepare the necessary documentation in the probate to have a nephew or niece act as and be appointed personal representative in the probate case. Give us a call at 800-747-2780 to get this started. We offer an easy online interview portal that will allow the representative to provide us with the required info without coming into our office.

  10. Milton Girouard Jr. September 16, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    My father died interstate as a resident of California 90 dyas ago. I am my fathers oldest son by his first marriage and live outside of California. My father had very little money as he was disabled and I’ve tried contacting my half-brother multiple times about the process of how he and his mother (my father’s present wife) are going to divide his personal belongings, but after multiple texts and phone calls, they do not reply and I’m being left in the dark on what’s going on. Is that legal and what can I personally do to find out?

    • Sandy McCarthy September 17, 2018 at 9:46 am

      Our role is to prepare probate documents. We cannot give you legal advice about what you can do in this situation. You may want to contact an attorney.

  11. Chris August 15, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    My mother passed away 2 years ago and i am the only child. She was not married. I am curently residing in her home and need to file to have her property transferred to me. There is a mortage till owed which Ive been paying. And some debt on her part. Im trying to save money to file the paper work but its been taking me a while. Will i have issues when i file cuz of the time line?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 15, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      Hi Chris – we can certainly help you file probate to get the property transferred to you. I would definitely act on this as soon as possible. You can avoid attorney fees by hiring our office. The probate process takes about 8 months and we offer a low flat fee. Call us at 800-747-2780 to get started. My extension is 100.

  12. Jennifer July 9, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    My mother died and has a house and motorcycle in the name of both her and her boyfriend of only 1.5 years. I have proof that she is the only one who paid for both the bike and the house through her bank records. Does common tenancy law apply in this case? I also have proof that I loaned my mother the money for both the house and the bike. Does that have any bearing on the situation?

    • Sandy McCarthy July 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm

      We are not attorneys, so I cannot comment on the “law.” Talk to an attorney if you need legal advice.

  13. Julie Grant June 4, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Is it true that when a person dies in Ca, who had a house with his spouse, but that spouse had died 6 years ago, because she hadn’t been dead for more than 15 years, and they didn’t have any children, the estate will be divided equally with next of kin on both sides? The wife had already passed 6 years ago and the husband was paying on the house and then he just passed this year. What other state does this?

    • Sandy McCarthy June 5, 2018 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Julie – We cannot comment of the law or its interpretation but we can certainly help you with the probate paperwork. In the meantime, talk to an attorney if you need help understanding California’s probate laws.

  14. Caesi Bevis March 8, 2018 at 3:47 am

    Please finish the line up.
    Who is next in line after deceased grandparents?

    Elderly uncle (married)

    Cousins – none in contact with me except one and we are not emotionally close. He’s just a business contact on property we all inherited in common.

    I’m now a senior. I’m so tired of hearing FAMILY will help you. I’m an only kid. No “family” is not helping.

    Had a trial run at a temporary medical emergency and lack of family or friends who could help put me living in Vehicle following natural disaster. I’m still not in housing which creates a medical problem.

    Please help me warn others. You need a crisis plan.

    • Sandy McCarthy March 17, 2018 at 12:15 am

      If there is no spouse or domestic partner, no issue, no parent or issue of parent, no grandparent or issue of grandparent, but a predeceased spouse or domestic partner with issue surviving, the property would go to issue of a predeceased spouse or domestic partner,issue take equally if they are all the same degree of kinship to the predeceased spoue or domestic partner, but if of unequal degree, those of more remote degree take by right of representation. If decedent leaves no surviving spouse, domestic partner, issue, parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters or their issue, or issue of a predeceased spouse or domestic partner, ALL property goes to the decedent’s next of kin. If no next of kin, then all property goes to parents or issue of parents of predeceased spouse or domestic partner. Bottom line, we recently heard a sad story of a woman who had no family and had not made a will. All of her assets, house, etc. will ultimately go to the State of California because she failed to make a Plan. Yes, everyone needs a plan for their estate!

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